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VIRTUAL WHITEBOARDS & DIGITAL POST-ITS - INCORPORATING INTERNET-BASED TOOLS FOR IDEATION INTO ENGINEERING COURSES

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Creativity plays an important role in the problem-solving process of engineering. Many engineering tasks can be understood as special cases of creative problem solving. Creative problem solving in companies often includes creative sessions in teams and the use of creativity techniques for groups such as brainstorming or morphological box, where ideas are recorded on a whiteboard with various visualization aids such as sticky notes. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, courses in creativity and innovation management in engineering curricula face the challenge of teaching creative problem solving, while the lecturer and the students work from home using cooperation platforms such as MS Teams or Zoom to interact. The functionality of these platforms with regard to ideation are limited so that internet-based tools for ideation can offer a sensible complement through e.g. virtual whiteboards enabling e-brainstorming sessions with spatially distributed participants. The paper gives an overview over internet-based tools for ideation (i.e. idea creation and idea evaluation) highlighting their functionality, templates and possible areas of use in engineering education with regard to creative problem solving. Furthermore, the paper discusses first experiences of teaching creative problem solving in a virtual environment including a feedback of students from a master course in industrial engineering.
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49th ANNUAL CONFERENCE | BERLIN | 13.09. – 16.09.2021 – SHORT PAPERS –
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VIRTUAL WHITEBOARDS & DIGITAL POST-ITS
INCORPORATING INTERNET-BASED TOOLS FOR IDEATION
INTO ENGINEERING COURSES
Prof. Dr. Carsten Deckert1
Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences
Düsseldorf, Germany
https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6883-566X
Ahmed Mohya
Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences
Düsseldorf, Germany
Sujieban Suntharalingam
Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences
Düsseldorf, Germany
Conference Key Areas: Essential elements for the online learning success, Social
aspects and communication in online learning
Keywords: Creativity, Creative Problem Solving, Digital Whiteboards
ABSTRACT
Creativity plays an important role in the problem-solving process of engineering.
Many engineering tasks can be understood as special cases of creative problem
solving. Creative problem solving in companies often includes creative sessions in
teams and the use of creativity techniques for groups such as brainstorming or
morphological box, where ideas are recorded on a whiteboard with various
visualization aids such as sticky notes. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, courses in
creativity and innovation management in engineering curricula face the challenge of
teaching creative problem solving, while the lecturer and the students work from
home using cooperation platforms such as MS Teams or Zoom to interact. The
functionality of these platforms with regard to ideation are limited so that internet-
based tools for ideation can offer a sensible complement through e.g. virtual
whiteboards enabling e-brainstorming sessions with spatially distributed participants.
The paper gives an overview over internet-based tools for ideation (i.e. idea creation
and idea evaluation) highlighting their functionality, templates and possible areas of
use in engineering education with regard to creative problem solving. Furthermore,
the paper discusses first experiences of teaching creative problem solving in a virtual
environment including a feedback of students from a master course in industrial
engineering.
1 Corresponding Author
C. Deckert
Carsten.deckert@hs-duesseldorf.de
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1 INTRODUCTION
The problem-solving process of engineering largely depends on the engineer’s
creativity. Several studies show that maintaining the performance of collaborative
work such as creative problem solving in teams while working remotely is one of the
biggest challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic [1, 2, 3]. First studies from
industry [3] as well as research [4] indicate that workplace tools have a significant
impact on productivity and creativity during remote work. According to Malhotra and
Majchrzak [5] successful virtual workspaces need to supply two key features:
“multichannel synchronous communication” and “support for maintaining a persistent
record of knowledge over time”. In the first category, the ideation process usually
requires visualization tools such as whiteboards, presentation boards or flip charts
where people can share their ideas using markers, cards and digital post-its. In a
virtual workspace with remote members this has to be substituted with internet-
based tools for ideation in the form of digital or virtual whiteboards and post-its.
Lecturers of creativity and innovation management face similar challenges, as they
instruct students in the tasks and techniques of creative problem solving, while both
lecturer and students work from home using collaborative plattforms such as MS
Teams and Zoom. The functionality of these platforms with regard to ideation are
limited so that digital whiteboards can offer a sensible complement. In this paper, the
following chapter provides an overview of existing internet-based tools for ideation.
Then, initial experiences in teaching creative problem solving with some of these
tools are described. The last section concludes with a summary of the results and an
outlook on future work.
2 INTERNET-BASED TOOLS FOR IDEATION
The creative process can be roughly divided into the phases of problem definition,
ideation and solution implementation [6]. In the ideation part of the creative process
there is typically an interplay of divergent and convergent tasks to generate and
evaluate ideas. From these models we derived the following tasks which have to be
supported by internet-based tools for ideation:
Capturing ideas: Using templates and functions of creativity techniques
Sorting ideas: Re-arranging ideas into relations, categories and hierarchies
Developing ideas: Fleshing out existing ideas and specifying details
Evaluating ideas: Assessing ideas to find the most promising one(s)
Additonally the tools need to enable the following two tasks to link the virtual to the
real world:
Documenting results: Generating a file for permanent storage
Communicating: Using a direct audio/video communication channel for group
interaction during ideation sessions
We chose ten common internet-based tools and assessed them based on the
functions necessary to support these task (see table 1).
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Table 1. Digital Whiteboards (Status: May 2021)
Collarboard Conceptboard Ideaboardz Limnu Lucidspark Mindmeister Miro Mural Padlet Stormboa rd
Brainstorming          
Brainwriting ✗ ✗   ✗ ✗
Mindmap   ✗ ✗    
Six Thinking Hats   ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗
Synectics ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗
Visual Synectics ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗   
Morphological Box/Matrix ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗
TIPS (Contradiction Matrix) ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗
Business Model Canvas   ✗ ✗  
Relocate/Shift Notes        
Arrows/Connecting Lines        
Clustering/Grouping        
Sketches      
Pictures/Fotos         
Additional Files/Media         
Evaluating ideas
Points/Emojies/Thumbs
up/Like
 
   
Documenting
results
File Types
PNG PNG, PDF PDF,CSV PNG
PDF, PNG, jpeg,
SVG, CSV
Text PDF, J PG, CSV
PDF, PNG, ZIP-
file
PDF, PNG, CSV
DOC X, PPTX,
PNG, PDF, CSV
Chat      
Audio ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗
Videoconference ✗✗✗✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗
availabl e not avail able
Developing ideas
Communicating
Process
Functions/Templates
Digital Whiteboards
Sorting ideas
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The results in table 1 show that on the one hand there are very simple tools such as
Ideaboardz or Mindmeister with few functions, which can serve as an introduction
into the field, and on the other hand there are comprehensive tools such as Miro,
Conceptboard or Mural with lots of functionality, which can serve advanced needs
but need more skills to master. However, it should be noted that table 1 is a
snapshot in time. Tools can and do expand their range over time to include
additional features. The data collection period for table 1 was from February to May
2021.
3 FIRST EXPERIENCES WITH DIGITAL WHITEBOARDS
First experiences with teaching creative problem solving in a virtual environment
have been made in the context of a master course in industrial engineering at the
University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf. The course called Innovation and
Technology Management took place in the summer semester of 2020 (SS2020).
During the course, the prospective engineers worked the entire semester of 14
sessions in groups of five on a self-chosen problem to redesign an everyday object
ending with the students presenting their solutions. In total, there were 25 students
divided into five groups. Students were trained in the basics of creative problem
solving and creativity techniques in two lectures with exercises. In this context, it was
asked which techniques the students were already familiar with. The assessment of
the degree of familiarity shows a similar picture to that from the previous semester
[7]. Students show a high familiarity with intuitive creativity techniques and three
quarters of them have already participated in a brainstorming session. This is also
reflected in the evaluation of various self-assessments from past semesters of the
same course. Students prefer intuitive techniques such as brainstorming over others
and would be most likely to use them to generate ideas [7,8].
Students from the SS2020 had to use e-brainstorming to generate ideas. The
students used two tools selected by the lecturer, a simple tool (Ideaboardz) to
capture ideas and a more complex tool (Miro) to facilitate further processes such as
sorting and evaluating. After the ideation sessions, a survey was conducted to
determine which form of brainstorming (traditional or online) is preferred by the
students. Of the 25 students who participated in the course 19 evaluable
questionnaires were submitted. The result of the assessment in fig. 1 shows that the
majority of the students (63%) prefer traditional brainstorming to e-brainstorming
(37%). However, in a more detailed evaluation, e-brainstorming gets higher ratings
from students on most criteria. Most students think they were more creative
personally (48%) and as a group (54%) when they used e-brainstorming (in
comparison to 32% and 12% respectively). They also think an e-brainstorming
session is more fun (55%), is easier to do (66%) and promotes a better
understanding of creativity (40%) than traditional brainstorming (32%, 20% and 32%
respectively). Only when asked which method students would prefer in the future
traditional brainstorming (47%) receives a higher approval than e-brainstorming
(39%). Students still seem to be unsure of internet-based tools for ideation: In
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general they still prefer the traditional way of doing brainstorming, but they also
perceive the advantages of the online tools. It could be that, in general, the students
still assess brainstorming based on habit and need to gain more experience with the
new tools for a meaningful assessment.
Fig. 1. Comparison between online and offline brainstorming (n = 19)
4 CONCLUSION
This paper gives an overview of ten common internet-based virtual whiteboards,
which are meant to be used for for idea generation, and gives an insight on first
experiences in teaching creative problem solving with two of these tools. The
overview has shown that there are tools that are very simple and have few functions
and other tools that have advanced functions. However, it should be noted that the
data was collected in the period from February to May 2021 and, thus, represents a
snapshot in time. Tools can and do expand the functions offered over time. Initial
experience in working with two of these tools (Ideaboardz and Miro) has shown that
students in general prefer creative problem solving in the form of traditional
branstorming over online brainstorming via digital whiteboards. However, they also
perceive the benefits of online tools, as in a more detailed evaluation, e-
brainstorming receives higher ratings in comparison to traditional brainstorming. It
should be considered that the evaluation is from a small sample size. A total of 25
students participated in the course, of which 19 submitted an evaluation. Future
plans for the course include testing other digital whiteboards and repeating the
survey with other students so that over time a larger sample size can be created and
the results can be compared. As part of the review of the tools, in addition to the
expansion of the table with additional tools, the continuous updating of the newly
added features is also planned. Furthermore, an investigation can be carried out to
determine in how far the individual tools are data protection compliant.
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Purpose-Engineers are expected to be the creative problem solvers and innovative tinkerers of a company. This article examines to what extent German tertiary education lives up to this expectation. The analysis of German module descriptions in engineering shows that there are no courses dedicated to creativity and that creativity and its techniques are mentioned only sparsely in the modules of the engineering curriculum. Surveys amongst our students show that they are usually familiar with techniques which are based on generating alternatives such as brainstorming and morphological box, but lack knowledge about techniques based on challenging assumptions such as forced connection. They tend to favour discursive techniques over intuitive ones and techniques which use generation of alternatives as an idea-generating principle. A combination of creativity techniques seems to be most conducive to creative output in our course. Finally, we present some first findings on creative sessions in remote work with the help of virtual whiteboards, which have gained in importance since the pandemic. Design/methodology/approach-Firstly, we present an document analysis of the modules of Bachelor and Master programs of mechanical engineering at German universities and universities of applied sciences. Secondly, we present results from surveys in our Master course in "Innovation and Technology Management" where we gathered data from students over several years and performed an external evaluation of the output using Consensual Assessment Technique (CAT). These results include which creativity techniques the students know prior to the course and which they prefer as well as which techniques seem to be conducive to engineering creativity. Furthermore we surveyed their experiences with creative sessions as remote work. Originality/value-Overall, the article shows the importance to teach prospective engineers the basics in creativity. Students should have the opportunity to acquire knowledge about and apply different creativity techniques, as different techniques have different strengths and weaknesses and, thus, different areas of fruitful application. They should also have the chance to try out different modes such as in-person sessions and virtual sessions, as some of the future work will most likely shift online. Furthermore, a combination of different creativity techniques makes it more likely that engineers break through their usual systematic-analytic way of thinking and helps them to think outside the box to find creative solutions for the pressing problems of our time.
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Engineering can be understood as a sub-category of creative problem solving with a focus on functionality. Engineers are often expected to come up with and implement new and better solutions in a company. The aim of this paper is twofold. Firstly, it gives an overview of the status quo of how creative problem solving is taught at German tertiary institutions (universities and universities of applied sciences). As a result, only a weak reflexive examination of creativity could be detected and only sparse teaching of creativity techniques seems to take place. Secondly, the paper discusses first experiences of teaching creative problem solving in engineering and presents some tentative results on preferences and effectiveness of creativity techniques. The results are derived from a master course with a practical part in which student had to redesign an everyday object using amongst others a range of creativity techniques.
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Explaining Creativity is an accessible introduction to the latest scientific research on creativity. In the last 50 yearss, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists have increasingly studied creativity, and we now know more about creativity that at any point in history. Explaining Creativity considers not only arts like painting and writing, but also science, stage performance, and business innovation. Until about a decade ago, creativity researchers tended to focus on highly valued activities like fine art painting and Nobel prize winning science. Sawyer brings this research up to date by including movies, music videos, cartoons, videogames, hypertext fiction, and computer technology. For example, this is the first book on creativity to include studies of performance and improvisation. Sawyer draws on the latest research findings to show the importance of collaboration and context in all of these creative activities. Today's science of creativity is interdisciplinary; in addition to psychological studies of creativity, Explaining Creativity includes research by anthropologists on creativity in non-Western cultures, and research by sociologists about the situations, contexts, and networks of creative activity. Explaining Creativity brings these approaches together within the sociocultural approach to creativity pioneered by Howard Becker, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Howard Gardner. The sociocultural approach moves beyond the individual to consider the social and cultural contexts of creativity, emphasizing the role of collaboration and context in the creative process.
Working from Home Experience. An Empirical Study from the User Perspective During the Corona Pandemic
  • M Bockstahler
  • M Jurecic
  • S Rief
Bockstahler M., Jurecic M., Rief S. (2020), Working from Home Experience. An Empirical Study from the User Perspective During the Corona Pandemic. Fraunhofer IAO, Stuttgart, pp. 22-24.
What's Next for Remote Work: An Analysis of 2,000 Tasks, 800 Jobs, and Nine Countries, Access on 22
  • S Lund
  • A Madgavkar
  • J Manyika
  • S Smit
Lund S., Madgavkar A., Manyika J., Smit S. (2020), What's Next for Remote Work: An Analysis of 2,000 Tasks, 800 Jobs, and Nine Countries, Access on 22.04.2021 under https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-ofwork/whats-next-for-remote-work-an-analysis-of-2000-tasks-800-jobs-andnine-countries